The Battle of the Alamo

A 26 Year Saga Draws to a Close

Alamo engine

Photo 1: The beginning of the saga - The Alamo engine loaded in the back of Mike McArthur's truck in 1975.

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In 1836, the Battle of the Alamo lasted 13 days. My personal battle of the Alamo was a 26-year saga beginning in 1975 and culminating in 2001. As with the overwhelming odds in the original San Antonio battle - 189 defenders to 4,000 attackers - the probability of successfully completing my highly cannibalized Alamo engine seemed as remote. However, through a series of unique coincidences and chance encounters with my own forms of Davy Crocketts and Jim Bowies, not only was I able to stage a moral and strategic victory but a restoration victory as well.

In the early 1970s I discovered the fun of finding and restoring old one-lunger engines and I was always looking for them. In the summer of 1975 my wife, Pat, and I traveled to southern Utah with my parents. I maintained my vigilance and inquired, when convenient, about interesting old iron. We were staying in St. George, Utah, where my dad had grown up, and one day Dad and I were driving near some corrals on the south side of town when he stopped to visit with Ray Schmutz, his lifelong friend.

At one point in our conversation with Ray, I asked him if he knew of any old engines around. He said there was one on a ranch he owned out on 'The Strip' and I could have it if I wanted it. But, he cautioned me, I probably would not want it because the flywheels and other parts were missing. I asked him if he had any idea where the flywheels might be, and he said an old pump that was with the engine and some other 'scrap iron' had been taken to another ranch about 25 miles from there, but he never saw the flywheels. Thanking him for the offer, I told him I would plan to retrieve the engine.

'The Strip' is what people in southern Utah call the northern part of Arizona that is cut off from the rest of the state by the Colorado River. Only a handful of people live in this part of Arizona, and the few roads that exist were little more than ribbons of sand in 1975. I took the camper off our pickup, and Dad's brother, Tom, led our reconnaissance mission for some 80 dusty miles across the desert to an abandoned ranch house.

Filled with intrigue and excitement we neared the dilapidated place; heat waves radiating from the iron monolith created a mirage-like image. Approaching on foot as the dust drifted away we made a closer examination that revealed the obvious missing parts; flywheels, crankshaft, connecting rod, piston, bearing caps, and a few small pieces.

Even so, I knew this was a unique engine as I noticed the three-flyball governor, the unusual head with both a spark plug and igniter, and an elaborate air pre-heater attached to a dual-fuel carburetor. My dad and uncle both asked if I really wanted to haul the hulk back and I enthusiastically voiced my affirmation.

Since what was left of the engine probably weighed a ton, and there was no way we could lift it, we decided to dig a ramp a couple of feet deep into the sand so we could back the truck down and have the rear of the truck bed about even with the bottom of the engine. Then, finding some old fence posts and boards, and even an appropriate rock for a fulcrum, we pried and pushed until we finally had the treasure in the back of the truck (See Photo 1).

After an equally dusty return from this sun-baked realm, we unloaded the engine in my grandmother's backyard in St. George (See Photo 2), and I had to leave it there since we needed to bring our camper home. When my parents traveled to St. George about a year later they drove their pickup, and upon their return hauled the engine to me here in Issaquah, Wash. The only identification I could interpret on the engine was a brass tag which read: 'EVERYTHING IN MACHINERY,' F.C. Richmond Machinery Company, 117-119 West Second St., Salt Lake City, Utah,' and the serial number 13418 stamped on the top, front of the cylinder. I wrote to the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce inquiring about this company and received a reply that no evidence of the company remained. Next, I sent a picture to Gas Engine Magazine, January-February, 1977 (See Photo 3), seeking the engine's identity, and one person sent me some information suggesting it was an Alamo.

In the spring of 1977 I loaded the engine into my pickup and drove about a hundred miles to an EDGE&TA Branch 20 meeting near Toledo, Wash. I enquired about any possible parts, but considered flywheels my primary need. Bob Herren, host of the gathering, told me of a pair of flywheels attached to a crankshaft that had been sitting for years in the front yard of a house in Winlock, 10 miles west.

Photo 2:The Alamo engine as it looked in 1975, unloaded from Mike's truck and sitting in his grandmother's backyard.

I drove over there on the way home, and sure enough, there were two large flywheels that looked like they would be an appropriate size for my engine. I pulled into the yard and knocked on the door. No one answered, so I left. About a year later I stopped again, and this time I talked with the man who lived there, a Mr. Raybuck. He said he did not want to part with the flywheels at that time, so I thanked him for his time and asked if I could check with him in a year or so. He said that would be fine.

At least a year had passed when I stopped again. The flywheels were still chained and padlocked to the apple tree in the front yard, but now Mr. Raybuck said he had given the flywheels to his daughter who had the house next door. He told me that she was not home and would be gone until evening, so I thanked him again for his time and returned home. Several months later I stopped again. This time Mr. Raybuck informed me that his daughter was in Saudi Arabia with her husband and would be there for several months.

I suppose it was at least a year later when I stopped the next time. His daughter was home! I explained the reason for my interest in the flywheels, which she understood, and that her father had told me he had given them to her. I offered to buy them or trade for them. She was not interested in selling them, but would be willing to trade for another pair. I told her all I could offer was a pair about 30 inches in diameter, considerably smaller than the ones she had in her yard. She said that would be fine. Needless to say, I was back the next day to make the trade.

Although she was gone for the day, her husband knew I would be there and he was prepared to help. He looked at the flywheels I brought and told me to unload them while he went for a hacksaw to cut the chain that secured the large ones to the apple tree. Shortly, he returned and parted the chain. Just as we were about to roll the wheels into my truck Mr. Raybuck came out of his house and announced that the flywheels were not leaving the place! No explaining by his son-in-law would change his mind. I was dismayed, but could only load my smaller flywheels and leave. I gave up on these.

I continued to search for some large flywheels: I found some that were much too large, some that were cracked, a single one here and there, but never any that seemed right. Years passed and many projects were completed as the Alamo sat behind numerous other engines in the back corner of my shop.

Then, about 1993 I was telling Greg Spranger, a friend of mine in Issaquah, about the Alamo and that I really would like to restore it someday if I could find some flywheels for it. I proceeded to tell him of the flywheels I had nearly acquired many years earlier. He listened and then informed me that his neighbor was Don Raybuck and that Don had grown up in Winlock. Greg said he would inquire of Don about the flywheels. Come to find out, Mr. Raybuck's daughter, with whom I had dealt years earlier, is Don Raybuck's sister! Greg got her phone number from Don and I called her that evening. I will never forget that as I introduced myself she said, 'Oh, you again?' After a short conversation she informed me she did not want to part with the flywheels at that time, but she said she would keep my number and let me know if she changed her mind. I doubted I would ever hear from her again, but I still was not ready to give up on the Alamo.

About two years later, in the fall of 1995, on a Thursday, at about 10:30 p.m., the phone rang. I was sound asleep but answered with a groggy 'Hello.' A woman's voice on the other end said, 'Do you still want those flywheels?' I knew immediately who she was and what she was talking about and said, 'Absolutely!' I made her an offer, which she accepted. We agreed that I would pick them up Saturday morning and that her husband would load them into my truck with a tractor. I was there Saturday and picked up the flywheels. It seemed so easy! Many thoughts, mostly of disbelief, darted through my mind as I drove home. I began to wonder how the flywheels would really look on the Alamo, and I was beginning to think about the next step, building a crankshaft.

Photo 3:A picture of the Alamo in 1977. Mike sent this photo to GEM looking for anyone who might identify it. He received one response that helped lead him to its finish.

The flywheels sat outside my shop for several weeks. I guess I enjoyed just looking at them, and besides, the Alamo was buried in the back corner of the shop. One day I took the wheels off the crank and leaned them against the wall. For the first time I actually considered the crankshaft. I decided to measure it and see if it was close to the right size and if it could, perhaps, be modified and used in the restoration. It did have the counterweights like the Alamo pictures show. After jotting down a few measurements I climbed over other inventory and into the back corner and began to do some measuring on the engine. Experiencing disbelief, I kept remeasuring. Then I went back outside and verified the crank might fit without modification! By the next day I had moved the Alamo out to a more accessible area, set the crankshaft on the bearings and discovered that it fit perfectly!

Earnestly, I began to finish other projects. Then in February 1996, my dad called me from St. George to tell me he had seen some large flywheels in somebody's yard in Kanab, Utah, about 80 miles from St. George and about 70 miles from where I had retrieved the engine. I still had fantasies about finding the original flywheels for my engine, even though the ones I had seemed perfect. So, he and I planned to stop in Kanab and check these out in the summer when we would be in southern Utah for a family reunion. In the meantime I had decided to have a friend, Cliff Matteson, fabricate some bearing caps. At some point I also ran an ad in GEM to try to find a 7-3/4-inch diameter piston, but received no responses.

While in Utah that summer we went to Kanab and checked out the flywheels. They turned out to be too large, but when my dad and I went to the owner's door I had with me some pictures of the Alamo, including some of the day we got the engine in 1975 (See Photo 1). We were greeted by Theo McAllister and his son, Wesley. As I showed them the pictures, Wesley said, 'That's the Tuweep Valley. We heard about that engine!' Apparently, they had started collecting a year or two after I had gotten it. They had been told about it and had been out to look for it and had always wondered what happened to it. Well, I explained to them my needs and they said they would try to help me out. We enjoyed a great tour of their collection.

Spring of 1997 arrived and Dave Myers of Arizona had something about an Alamo engine in GEM and I called him. He was very helpful as he sent me some pictures of his smaller, tray-cooled Alamo and suggested I contact John Rex, which I did. John said that Clark Colby in Pennsylvania had an engine like I described and suggested I contact him. Of course I did, and Clark has been most helpful! During the past three years Clark has taken parts off his engine and photographed them, he has sent me dozens of photographs and covered every detail. He had parts cast for me. He has sent precise descriptions and measurements. I can never thank him enough. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Also in the spring of 1997 Theo McAllister called me from Kanab and told me he had found a 7-1/4-inch diameter piston that might work in my engine. Gene Mitchell, the man who had it, was looking for a 6-inch diameter piston and would trade. I sent him a 6-inch piston within a few months and Theo sent me the 7-1/4-inch one. I put it in the bore and it fit nicely. In fact, I wondered if, by some chance, it was the one out of my engine.

In September 1997, Dad died. Mom asked my wife, Pat, my son, Marshall, and me if we would go to St. George with her for a week in February 1998, which we did. Friday, the day before we came home, I drove out to see Theo McAllister and thank him for the piston. As we were speculating about whether that piston he sent might have been out of my Alamo, he said he thought Gene had picked it up from a scrap pile on that other ranch, the one to which Ray Schmutz had referred almost 23 years earlier. Wow! This really peaked my interest. Could there be other original parts in those scrap piles? It was too late to go look - we were flying home the next day.

Well, I was back in Issaquah by Saturday evening, and one of the first things I did was call Gene Mitchell. I asked him if he thought there might be more parts in those scrap piles. He was not optimistic, but I asked him if he would take me out there if I came back down in three weeks, and he said he would.

After a 26-year saga, Mike McArthur's 10-HP Alamo finally sees the light of day. Read about his amazing trial to restore this rare engine in this issue of Gas Engine Magazine

Those three weeks were a long wait. I called Gene as soon as I arrived in St. George so we could meet. Gene lives in Fredonia, Ariz., which is about five miles or so from Kanah, Utah. Two days later I drove my Mom's car out to Glendale where I borrowed my dad's brother's truck. From there I drove the few miles to Kanab and picked up Theo and we drove on down to Gene's. I had never been to Gene's place, and before we got out of the truck I could see interesting artifacts all over the yard and on the side of his shop. I also noticed another man there. I stepped out and was looking around at Gene as I walked toward him, and Theo said, 'You had better look down and watch your step, Mike, or you might trip over some junk.' I did look down and could not believe what was lying there! It was the connecting rod out of my Alamo!

The other man there was Marion Kirbey. Apparently he and Gene had been hunting deer together about 15 years earlier and had come upon those scrap piles. Gene had decided to carry the piston back to their vehicle, at least a quarter mile, and Marion had carried the rod. Then each took his find home with him. Well, after I had called Gene from Issaquah and he realized what I was looking for, he had called Marion and arranged to have him surprise me with the rod. And surprise me he did! Marion had driven some 80 miles that morning from Page, Ariz., where he lives, just to bring me that rod. I offered to pay him or find something he was looking for but he would not hear of it - he was pleased that it ended up where it belonged. Are these good guys or what?

The four of us squeezed into the truck and headed out across the desert. When we finally parked and began walking, it was a least a quarter mile before we found the scrap piles. Unbelievably, as I approached the first scrap pile, there, sitting very visibly on the pile, was a main bearing cap that I knew was from my Alamo! Ecstatic and exceptionally motivated, I moved every piece in that pile. Then I meticulously examined other piles and random scrap metal scattered over a few hundred square feet, but found nothing I could identify as being in anyway related to my restoration. What an eventful day! We returned to town and parted, but I knew I would maintain contact with these men.

Not too long after returning to Issaquah, I called Clark Colby to share my progress, and in our discussion he told me that the two bolts on the back of my engine were supposed to hold the magneto bracket. He also explained that the mag was driven by a chain. That chain drive seemed unusual - at least I had never seen such an arrangement. So when I called Gene a few days later and was telling him about the chain-driven mag, he informed me that he had a mag with a chain sprocket on it and that he had no plans for it. I asked him to keep it for me and told him I would come and look at it some time when I was in St. George again.

'Again' turned out to be around Christmas 1999, and I went out to see Gene, Theo and Wesley. We had a fun visit, and the mag I got from Gene that day looked like an appropriate vintage so I brought it back with me. It is an Eisemann Type GS 1, Edit. 1, s/n 637546 with 719 stamped on the side of the magnet and appropriate counter-clockwise rotation for being chain driven on the opposite side of the engine. In addition, while the housing is pot metal like on many magnetos, this one is also copper plated and older looking. I wonder if it might have been on my Alamo originally? I would like to believe it was, of course, but will probably never know. Well, that winter I did not make much progress on the Alamo project.

During the winter of 2000-2001, however, I committed all the time I could to finishing this restoration. This is where Clark Colby's help has been exceptionally valuable since, so far as I have discovered, he has the only other engine like mine. As I mentioned earlier, he has provided photographs, drawings with precise specifications, castings from his original parts and many answers and insights in phone conversations. I would never have been able to restore my engine with such accuracy of detail without Clark's help.

I finished restoring the original Detroit Lubricator, thanks to my friend Buck Charles, who provided me with all the needed parts that were missing or broken on mine. The cooling system is finished, thanks to Dave Myers who sent me pictures of the original tray-cooling for his Alamo engine. Thanks also to my friend Dan Grinstead who provided me with an old brass piston pump.

For portability I've mounted the engine on a wagon. The engine starts and runs great, and as with any of the several old one-lungers that I've revived, the satisfaction of observing this one run again is rewarding. However, each time I start this engine and watch the synchronization of parts at work, I begin to think again about the fragmented and abandoned condition it was in for decades, and I marvel at the combination of people far and near who are responsible for this engine's present status.

As this 26-year saga comes to a close, my 'Battle of the Alamo' victory is secure. Why? Mostly because of friends - new and old - who share an interest in this hobby. Although I have found priceless answers to critical questions, at least one nagging question remains. So many coincidences contributed to my successful restoration of this 10 HP Alamo s/n 13418 that I wonder about the possibility of another existing. This is a very rare engine, and yet the crankshaft, balanced with the properly shaped Alamo-style counterweights, fits perfectly. Could these flywheels and crankshaft for some reason have been removed from this engine as it sat on that remote ranch in Arizona? Were they, perhaps, even taken to other places but eventually brought to Washington state where, at some point, they were chained to an apple tree to decorate a front yard in Winlock? Too bad a DNA test on cast iron isn't readily available.

Contact Mike McArthur at 26425 SE 39th Street, Issaquah, WA 98029

'Unbelievably, as I approached the first scrap pile, there, sitting very visibly on the pile, was a main bearing cap that I knew was from my Alamo! Ecstatic and exceptionally motivated, I moved every piece in that pile.'